(Gemma Tipton’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 10/27.)

A MAN DRESSED in a crisp white shirt and black trousers flings himself into the muddy waters of a peat bog; a couple spend their honeymoon in bed, inviting the world’s press to join them; and a trio of women gently drool down their fine blue silk dresses. Of all the art forms, performance can be the hardest to understand. Attracting confusion and derision, or simply ignored, performance – and its close cousin video – might sum up all that’s wrong with art that is, at its worst, esoteric, pretentious and deliberately difficult.

But when a performance artist, Spartacus Chetwynd, and a video artist, Elizabeth Price, are shortlisted for the Turner Prize, perhaps it’s time to start taking more notice. And with Remnants showing the work of Amanda Coogan, Dominic Thorpe and Aideen Barry at Ballina Arts Centre, and the Dublin Live Art Festival opening on Tuesday, it is possible to explore what goes on when art happens in front of you.

Performance art, or live art, began at the turn of the last century, with Dada, the Futurists and events at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich exploring how art could be made to do something different. Fast-forward a decade or two and the action paintings of Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning saw a painting as a record of the processes of its making. What you see on the canvas – the gestures, marks, lines and splashes – are as much about the mental energies of the artist made physical as about creating the perfect, finished product.


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